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If you’re like most job seekers, you either don’t send a thank-you email after an interview at all, or you do but you’re confused about the purpose of them, and maybe a little annoyed.
It’s a weird convention, after all, since job interviews are business meetings. Why, then, are you supposed to fawn over your interviewer by sending a note thanking them for their time, when they’re not expected to do the same in return? Aren’t there already enough pieces of the interview process that emphasize the power dynamics at play? Do we really need one more?
But when done right, post-interview thank-you notes aren’t about thanking anyone for their time, and they’re definitely not about being obsequious.
The problem is in the name. We should stop calling them “thank-you notes” and instead call them “follow-up notes,” because that’s really what they’re supposed to be. Because we’ve misnamed them, too many people write notes that basically read like this:
Thank you for your time in meeting with me yesterday to discuss the editorial coordinator position. I’m very interested in the role and look forward to hearing about next steps.
There is very little point in sending that kind of note! It comes across as perfunctory (because it is) and doesn’t do much to strengthen your candidacy. It conveys little more than that you heard you were supposed to send a thank-you note, and so you did.
A good example of a thank-you email after an interview
When done well, a post-interview note should build on the conversation you had in the interview, show that you digested everything you learned in that meeting, and conclude that you’re still enthusiastic about the position. Here’s an example of a real-life (sanitized and shortened) thank-you note I received from a candidate who did this well:
I really enjoyed talking with you yesterday, and hearing more about where your team is headed. Based on our discussion, it sounds like you may be at a critical juncture in your work — simultaneously well-established and growing fast, expanding your new client initiatives and also working internally to strengthen your core.
If that is a fair characterization, it’s a tall order! It also feels very familiar to me over my 15-year arc of launching and expanding a communications team, and I would enjoy nothing more than rolling up my sleeves and helping you succeed — and particularly bringing the educator’s lens we discussed from my time working in schools.
I look forward to talking more with you and your team to see how I might be able to help you and your clients get where you want to go. If we’re a good match, I would be incredibly excited about the prospect of working together.
That references the conversation in a genuine-sounding way, shows the candidate gets the challenges she’d be facing in the role, talks a little about how she’d be able to help (without turning the note into a lengthy sales pitch), and conveys excitement about the job and interest in talking further.
But that’s just the content of the note. What about other questions like when to send the note? Should it be an email or a handwritten note, or both? What if you met with multiple interviewers? Let’s run through the logistics.
Should you send the note through email or postal mail?
In most fields these days, it’s fine to send your note by email. Sometimes it’s even preferable, since email is faster. If you drop a note in the mail, the hiring decision may already be made by the time it arrives. Plus, your note may sit unopened for weeks because so many people no longer bother checking their physical work mailboxes very often. And really, it’s business correspondence! It’s okay to use email.
That said, there are some interviewers who prefer handwritten notes — especially in fields like fundraising where a personal touch is valued. If you’re applying for a job where particularly gracious manners are a big deal, sometimes a handwritten note can be the way to go.
Whatever you do, though, pick one method or the other. Don’t do both, since that’ll look like overkill.
How soon after your interview should you send a thank-you email?
Send the note within a day or two of the interview. But don’t send it too quickly. I’ve heard people say they write their notes before their interviews and hit “send” as soon as they get home. Don’t do that! Not only are you bypassing the chance to personalize the content based on what happens in the interview itself, but sending it so quickly comes across as perfunctory, like you’re just checking off an item on your to-do list. You want your interviewer to know that you’ve spent time digesting the conversation and that your note reflects real thought and interest.
If you meet with multiple interviewers, should you send thank-you emails to all of them?
Ideally, yes! Vary the content a bit so they’re not identical.
What if you don’t have your interviewer’s email address?
Often you can figure it out if you have the email address of someone else there, since most companies use a standard configuration. So if you know that the HR manager’s email address is jane.smith@CompanyName.com, you can probably guess that Matilda Jones’s address is matilda.jones@CompanyName.com.
But otherwise, it’s fine to send along your note to the person there who you are in contact with (often HR or a recruiter) and ask them to pass it along to the person you want it to get to.
Should you expect a response to your thank-you email? Does it mean anything if you don’t get one?
Some interviewers will reply, and others won’t. Don’t read anything into it if you don’t receive a response. Some people think of it like replying to a thank-you note for a gift, where no response is necessary, lest it set off an endless cycle of “thank you for the thank you.”
Will a thank-you email really make or break your chances?
Not in most cases, but it will contribute to the overall picture of you as a candidate, just like lots of other little things in the hiring process, like whether or not you wore a suit or how much eye contact you made during the interview.
Of course, if you’re not the best candidate for the job, a thank-you note won’t change that. And if you’re clearly the strongest candidate, not sending a thank-you note probably won’t kill your chances. But if the decision has come down to you and another candidate, a thoughtfully written note with real substance to it can indeed be the thing that tilts the scales in your direction.
To be clear, there are interviewers who don’t care about thank-you notes at all. But there are also plenty of people who do, and the content of a note can sway their thinking. As a job candidate, you’re unlikely to know which type you’re dealing with, so it makes sense to spend ten minutes writing and sending the note.
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Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.